Why church is often a student’s last priority


I recently read an article by Greg Stier titled, “Why Mormons Do Better Youth Ministry Than We Do.” It really confirms a lot of my struggles about why church and youth group are often at the bottom of the priority list for both students and parents. Greg says this:

  • Mormons expect a lot out of their teenagers. We don’t.
  • Mormons ordain their young men into the ministry at the age of twelve. We don’t.
  • Mormons require their teens to attend seminary every day of high school. We don’t.
  • Mormons ask for two years in the field of every graduating senior. We don’t.

Maybe that’s why we don’t meet a lot of ex-Mormons, while there are hundreds of thousands of former church attendees in the true church of Jesus Christ (of everyday saints) who flee the church after graduating from high school.

Mormons set high standards for their students! If I set some of the expectations that are listen above, most students would not commit and parents would not support it because of conflicts with athletics and other extracurricular activities. Why? Because even school athletic teams and musical groups set higher expectations than we do.

I often hear comments like, “I can’t go to camp because I have football practice that week and if I don’t go to practice, I won’t have a starting spot on next year’s team.” Coaches set the standards high and hold students to it. But then at church and at home from parents students hear the exact opposite: “If you can’t come to youth group this week because you haven’t finished your homework yet, that’s fine. Attend when you can, if you want to.” What that communicates to the student is that academic, athletic and musical development are more important than spiritual development. We have such lazy expectations.

I think parents help feed this mentality of church as a last priority by often restricting youth group activities if homework isn’t done or skipping Sunday morning services for an entire soccer season due to the game schedule. My parents raised me with the exact opposite priorities. My brothers and I were selected on a few occasions to join the elite soccer and wrestling teams, but my parents always said no because the games were on Sunday mornings. As a young kid, that taught me a very valuable lesson: God always comes first. The price for this lesson? A couple little league soccer games and wrestling matches. And today we’re all involved in some sort of ministry.

But it’s just not the parents’ fault, youth pastors contribute to this, as well. We work hard to avoid conflicts with school events and, by doing so, possibly reinforce that academic and athletic development are a higher priority than spiritual development. I think we should avoid scheduling conflicts when it’s possible, but neither should we bend over backwards to avoid it. (I bet religion class every day for Mormon teenagers conflicts with a lot.) We need to set the standards high and stick to ’em. This is spiritual development we’re talking about here. Shouldn’t that be everyone’s #1 priority? Isn’t it much more important than athletic ability?

I think we expect way too little.

Posted on March 13, 2007

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